Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Crag Martin - Chesterfield, Derbyshire, November 2015

A quick blog on my attempts to see the celebrated Crag Martin in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, recently. I did see it, which was nice because I hadn't seen the last one (at Flamborough Head in April 2014) because I was visiting my brother for his birthday. So this was nice grip back, when I eventually saw it...

News came through around 12:45 on Sunday 8th, and I left home immediately (not something I'm normally in a position to do). Chesterfield's about 1.5 hours drive away from my house; quicker when traffic is light, slower when there's a 50mph limit along most of the M1...

By time I took up my position across the road from the Church of St. Mary and All Saints and stared up at the famous crooked spire, the bird had already been gone for around 30 minutes. The light grew darker, a Sparrowhawk came looking for a meal, and the Crag Martin didn't return. Ah well, it was worth a try. And at least it wasn't my forth dip, like it was for my old young friend Chris Bromley.

Church of St. Mary and All Saints, Chesterfield, Derbyshire - Sunday 8th November 2015

Next morning I was at work, and inevitably the bird returned to the church. I hastily arranged a half-day off work, for the middle half of the day, and got to Chesterfield around 13:15. The bird hadn't been seen for half an hour, but it had been performing well then, apparently. At around 13:25 I noticed a birder from up the street pointing over my head towards some Feral Pigeons in flight. I lifted my bins just as I overheard "It's over there now" and, yes, there it was just in front of the pigeons. I quickly turned to the person nearest me, who seemed oblivious to all of this, and attempted to point out the Crag Martin (and the Feral Pigeons). I then looked back to see it go out of view behind a building after about two seconds, and it didn't show again for the rest of the day.

Practically the same time as the day before, but with far fewer birders...
Church of St. Mary and All Saints, Chesterfield, Derbyshire - Monday 9th November 2015

Um, so I'd had about five seconds of viewing of the bird, split by about ten seconds of trying and failing to get someone else on it. It certainly was the Crag Martin: a pale-ish brown martin (the paleness evident only when viewed through bins), zipping around the sky catching flies, spreading it's tail as it switched direction. The pointer, who'd triggered me to look in the right direction, told me it had appeared from behind him seconds earlier, almost landing on the church, then zipping away down the street, when he pointed. 

So, yes, it was the bird. But I didn't feel massively comfortable ticking it. I did tick it, and applied the philosophy of my birder friend Mike Warner: "If you're happy it was the bird, tick it; then go and get better views of the next one at the first available opportunity". Fair enough; it was on the list.

Reportedly, the bird performed much better the day after, but then the sightings stopped for two days. It must have gone. One birder did put news out on Twitter, saying he'd seen it on Thursday morning, and got loads of grief from knee-jerk know-it-alls. He was proved right in the end - on Friday the bird was seen again, and the sighting became regular. Regular enough to make me decide that I'd go back for a another pop on Saturday morning...

Third time lucky? - Church of St. Mary and All Saints, Chesterfield, Derbyshire
Saturday 14th November 2015

My mood, and that of several birders and locals, was subdued on the morning of Saturday 14th November, because of the events in Paris the night before. It was cooler than recently, with heavy rain promised around 10:30, when I had to leave anyway.

The bird didn't show at first, which gave me time to contemplate the Paris attacks and the frankly rubbish-looking fake Christmas tree by the information centre; and a chance to chat to locals, birders, and some friends from BOG. By mid-morning, the bird hadn't arrived (and neither had the rain), so I left. My semi-dodgy tick from Monday would have to stand.

Back amongst the 50mph drudgery and traffic cones on the M1, the news came through around 11:00 that it was back. Decisions, decisions... I wasn't happy with the views on Monday, whatever I kept telling myself. I had to go back and hope it was still there, but was a good half an hour away, and still had to continue north to find junction to turn around.

I arrived around 11:40, to find the bird had been on show for 45 minutes. Had been on show. It had left five minutes earlier... Here we go again. At least I had a chance to catch up with ace photographer Paul Rowe, before the Crag Martin finally appeared. Phew!

Zipping around the church tower, mostlly on the north side, at great speed. Impossible with bins at close range, the bird would look really pale against the brickwork, then appear dark against the sky. Looking like a hirundine with slightly Starling-esque wings; its acrobatics were a joy to behold and made me appreciate the skill - or luck - that photographers had used to get such good shots. My shots of the Crag Martin were, erm, well, erm, you decide:

Crag Martin, Chesterfield, Derbyshire - Saturday 14th November 2015

Exactly. The bird performed well until my parking permit ran out and I headed home a happy man, with my life list firmly on 388.

Later that day the bird was relocated at Chesterfield FC's Proact football stadium, and it became clear it spent a lot of its time here when not at the church, and even roosted in the roof of the east stand. Amazing how a rare and visible bird can easily go missing in an urban area, despite birders and most locals being aware it was around.

The day after I was at Rodley Nature Reserve for the monthly WeBS count. Nothing out of the ordinary (apart from an adult Herring Gull, my first Patchwork Challenge point for months), though the heavy rain had caused the River Aire to flood.

Fish pass overflowing into the reedbed at Rodley NR, Leeds - Sunday 15th November 2015

Rugby pitch flooded by the access road at Rodley NR, Leeds - Sunday 15th November 2015 

Farmer's field by the car park at Rodley NR, Leeds - Sunday 15th November 2015

Lots of food for the gulls in the flood water at Rodley NR, Leeds - Sunday 15th November 2015

Thursday, 5 November 2015

American Golden Plover, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Saturday 25th October 2015

An American Golden Plover at Kilnsea, just north of Spurn Point, stayed long enough for me to find a free morning to go and check it out. AGP is a bit of a bogey bird for me, having missed/dipped quite a few (including at least one on the Shetland Islands earlier in the month), and I thought I would miss the opportunity for this one too. In fact, at the time of writing - 4th November - it's being reported as still present.

On arrival I headed for the hide at Kilnsea Wetlands, as this is where the bird had been reported most in the previous few days. It didn't take long to pick out - mainly because, much to my surprise, it was the only Golden Plover species present. It was sat on the shore with around c60 Lapwings, amongst the Wigeon and Greylags and Brent Geese.

American Golden Plover, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Saturday 25th October 2015

Through binoculars the face looked pale, and the eye an isolated blob. The overall plumage was paler and colder than any European Golden Plover I'd seen. As soon as my scope was on it the bird stretched, lifting it's wings to reveal the dark grey underwings. Unfortunately it flew off after I'd taken only a couple of record shots, and before I could go round to the side screen to get a closer view.

I walked around the eastern bank, by Beacon Ponds, as a Short-eared Owl hunted over the fields. Another birder had just picked it up distantly in the field to the north. I headed round to get a better view, as a large skein of Pink-footed Geese headed south high overhead.

The bird was feeding in an arable field around 50 metres from the road - just out of range of my camera for a good photo. But the pale throat, breast and face were very obvious, and the long, wide supercilium, creating the appearance of a small dark cap. Out in the open, the neck and legs now looked longer than European Golden Plover. Side on, the bird was obviously much more attenuated, because by the longer wings.

American Golden Plover, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Saturday 25th October 2015

A nice morning's birding, and another tick too. BOU list now up to 387.

Roe Deer, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Saturday 25th October 2015

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Shetland Birding, October 2015 - Part 2

Following on from Shetland Birding, October 2015 - Part 1...

Tuesday 6th October

The storm had arrived, and as we sat eating our breakfast the great outdoors didn't seem quite as inviting as the day before...

Skaw, Unst, Shetland - Tuesday 6th October 2015

We again headed up to Skaw, where the wader numbers had increased and now include a Knot. On the beach we found an example of the rare and protected Oyster Plant (Mertensia maritima). It certainly was well protected, by an upturned shopping basket and a stock fence!

Oyster Plant (Mertensia maritima), Skaw, Unst - Tuesday 6th October 2015

Botanical twitching...

At Valyie, four Goldcrest were new in, as was the Brambling. We had three more Brambling on the road at Norwick, and then a Bluethroat in a roadside ditch at Burrafirth, spotted from the van. Also at Burrafirth: Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Fieldfare and Tree Pipit.

Hard work in the wind and rain... Valyie, Unst - Tuesday 6th October 2015

We stopped to check the mass of gulls over the churning sea at Haroldswick. A first-winter Arctic Tern was a pleasant surprise.

We spent an hour seawatching from Lamba Ness, finding a decent amount of shelter behind the old MoD buildings. Unfortunately, we only had common species like Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Great Skua.

Seawatching at Lamba Ness, Unst - Tuesday 6th October 2015

Back towards the road we checked out the the draining channels in the bogs, finding a couple of Jack Snipe and a Richard's Pipit (the latter of which I didn't see, as I was too distracted by the Snipe I'd nearly stood on).

The rain had eased, but the wind was still very strong. We headed to Clingera across from Baltasound, finding Grey Wagtail, Yellow-browed Warbler and Goldcrest, and another very friendly dog.

The famous bus stop, north of Baltasound, Unst - Tuesday 6th October 2015

Wednesday 7th October

The weather was again wet the following morning, and didn't improve. Following the same pattern as Tuesday, we headed north to Skaw first, finding a Common Tern (and, yes, clearly different bird to the previous day's bird) in the gull melee.

 Wet and wild at Norwick, Unst - Wednesday, 7th October 2015

There were clearly lots of new birds in a Skaw: two Wheatear, four Whinchat, three Goldcrest, Meadow Pipits, Redwings, Reed Bunting, and 25 Snow Bunting.

Lichen, Uyeasound, Unst - Wednesday, 7th October 2015

After checking Valtie and Baltasound, we headed south via Uyeasound. A lone Whooper Swan was on Easter Loch. We parked up and Chris Rodger picked up an unusual Yellow Wagtail. It had a dark grey head, particularly contrasting dark ear coverts and pale supercilium, and a grey mantle, with a faintly yellow breast - a very striking bird. A probable Grey-headed Wagtail Motacilla flava thunbergi.

Barnacle Goose, Lund, Unst - Wednesday, 7th October 2015
On to Lund, in the south west. Lots of thistle-bashing and burn-walking only brought up two very wet and tired Goldcrests. There were c10 Barnacle Geese nearby, then we headed back via Uyeasound (c300 Golden Plovers), and finished with 10 Brambling around Baltasound.

Thursday 8th October

A day on Fetlar. The early weather was damp, but it cleared by mid-morning and by the afternoon the weather was still, clear and warm. 20+ Black Guillemots and 4+ Great Skuas from the ferry.

On the Unst-Fetlar ferry - Thursday 8th October 2015

First stop was Brough Lodge, a dilapidated 19th-century Gothic mansion with some good overgrown areas amongst its walls. Male Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Siberian Chiffchaff, Jack Snipe, plus good numbers of thrushes: Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird.

Brough Lodge, Fetlar - Thursday 8th October 2015

At Tresta, we checked sycamore plantation by the house, as the owner (the island's shopkeeper) moved his possessions out. Blackcap (five male and one female), 3+ Goldcrest and Yellow-browed Warbler, with two Red-throated Diver in the bay.

We stopped at Houbie and I checked out the recently abandoned shop. The island's population is falling (61 at the 2011 census, and now thought to be below 40), and may be reaching the point where it's no longer viable, especially if the shop has closed down.

We headed north on foot, up the Burn of Feal. A really productive area: 10+ Goldcrest, Yellow-browed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Redwing, Brambling, and a heard-only Redpoll. Lots of fun getting (falling) over the stock fences here too.

We met with Brydon Thomason and Micky Maher, and heard about a Little Bunting at Everland, near Funzie. Before I'd even got out of the van I was covered in mud from the farmer's lovely, but over-friendly, puppy. Before long we could hear the Little Bunting calling among the House Sparrow chirrups. It was briefly sat on the roof of a farm building, before moving off through the farm. A couple of Reed Buntings two.

Little Bunting, Everland, Fetlar - Thursday 8th October 2015

The weather was getting better as the day when on, becoming a glorious afternoon.

Everland, Fetlar - Thursday 8th October 2015

As we headed back to the ferry, we called in at Aith to check out some scrub around a farm, finding a Common Redstart.

Planticrues, Fetlar - Thursday 8th October 2015

More Black Guillemots and a Great Northern Diver from the ferry back to Unst. A quick look around Uyeasound and on to Hannigarth, south of Sandwick.

 Uyeasound, Unst - Thursday 8th October 2015

 Whooper Swan, Uyeasound, Unst - Thursday 8th October 2015

A Goldcrest was at the farm, with Jack Snipe and Skylark out on the boggy Breck of Voesgrind.

 Hannigarth, Unst - Thursday 8th October 2015

We then picked up a harrier species quartering the hill opposite. Because of the number of Pallids around (on Unst and elsewhere on the Islands), our starting point for ID was Pallid Harrier. We checked the primary fingers, which looked like four per wing. The body and tail appeared slim, and there appeared to be a contrasting pale and dark collar. Most strikingly, the bird's body colour was a bright coppery orange. Everything looked good for a Pallid, but looking at Andy's photos later, we realised the bird had five primary fingers (only noticeable on pictures showing the underwing, not the upperwing). The collar wasn't as pronounced as first thought, and the colour was probably due to the low sun. So, a Hen Harrier.

Back to Baltasound, where two Great Northern Divers were a great sight on the flat water as the light faded. The sky at sunset was awesome.

 Great Northern Diver, Baltasound, Unst - Thursday 8th October 2015

 Sundown at Baltasound, Unst - Thursday 8th October 2015

Another great day - really glad to have visited Fetlar, a really beautiful island. It didn't end there - later in the evening I saw my first aurora borealis, looking north from the outskirts of Baltasound.

Friday 9th October

Our last day of Unst, and a lovely sun rise to see us off.

 Sunrise over Baltasound, Unst - Friday 9th October 2015

As we drove away from the hotel, Andy spotted a Great Grey Shrike on a post by Halligarth. Good spot!

 Great Grey Shrike, Baltasound, Unst - Friday 9th October 2015

The morning was spent checking out the Golden Plover flocks on Yell, looking for a reported American Golden Plover. We must have seen 500+, but in several groups spread out over a large area. Plenty of "possibles", but all of which ended up proving to be European Golden Plovers. Heading for the ferry, we stopped in to pay homage at the Bobby Tulloch memorial.

Bobby Tulloch memorial, The Old Haa, Yell - Friday 9th October 2015

Back on Shetland Mainland, we stopped at Sandgarth - a great place with most a welcoming owner (thanks for the tea!). In the brilliantly planted and appointed mini-nature-reserve, We had two Mealy Redpoll, Goldcrest and Blackcap.

 Mealy Redpoll, Sandgarth, Shetland - Friday 9th October 2015

At Lower Voe, we had two of Shetland's scarce Collared Doves, plus Brambling in a large Redwing flock. At Vidin: Blackcap, Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, and another Collared Dove. A trip to Tesco (to pick up the pager Mark had left on Unst...) allowed us to shamelessly twitch the Mute Swan on Clickimin Loch to add it to the trip list.

We rounded off we a showy Lapland Bunting by the lower car park at Sumburgh Head, unfortunately as the light was fading.

 Lapland Bunting, Sumburgh Head, Shetland - Friday 9th October 2015

Saturday 10th October

Last day, with my flight off at 16:20. A look around the Sumburgh Hotel grounds brought a couple of Goldcrests and the usual Twite and Skylarks.

 Goldcrest, Sumburgh Hotel, Shetland - Saturday 10th October 2015

There was a Red-breasted Merganser, a Velvet Scoter, and three Long-tailed Duck on West Voe, and as we walked to pick up a new hire car for Chris to use on his last day, a Short-eared Owl low over our heads at the hotel entrance gate.

 Great Black-backed Gull remains, Sumburgh, Shetland - Saturday 10th October 2015

We used the car to drop Donna off at her new lodgings in Lerwick, and have a look round for some Shetland Gin to take home for my wife.

Accommodation barge Sans Vitesse, Lerwick harbour, Shetland - Saturday 19th October 2015

The trip had one last surprise. While browsing through the local natural history section of a Lerwick bookshop, news came through of an Olive-backed Pipit at Toab, back near the airport. We had just enough time to get great views as it perched up on a garden wall after a short wait, and then I was on the long journey home (got in around midnight).

Another ace trip. Not a rarity fest (only Swainson's Thrush, Pallid Harrier, Arctic Warbler, Little Bunting, two Bluethroats, two species of shrike, three species of flycatcher, five species of pipit, a rare Yellow Wagtail sub-species, more Yellow-browed Warblers and Jack Snipes than you can shake a stick at, plus watching the first Whoopers, Pinkfeet and Barnacle Geese to arrive in Britain this winter, etc), but not bad. Plus I learnt so much more than last year. I really feel I'm getting to grips with it now. Need to looking a booking the next trip...